Paul Albanese is a Michigan golf course architect who burst into prominence when one of his designs, Tatanka in Niobrara, Neb., was named Golf Magazine’s Best New Resort Course of 2015.
In July, Sage Run, a similar Albanese creation, opened in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Both projects were done while working with American Indian tribes and were designed to upgrade casinos in small communities.
Now in partnership with Chris Lutzke, a long-time Pete Dye associate, Albanese has put the spotlight on a relatively new term in golf course design with his unveiling of Sage Run. It’s built on a drumlin.
Never heard of a drumlin? Let Albanese explain what it’s all about.
Q.: OK, what is a drumlin?
ALBANESE: It a geological formation created by glaciers.
Q.: Is it something new in the world of golf?
ALBANESE: By no means is it unknown in the golf architecture world. A large ridge is a drumlin.
Q.: Does a golf course have one drumlin, or a bunch of them?
ALBANESE: Sage Run doesn’t have a series of drumlins. It’s one big long ridge.
Q.: How unusual is that?
ALBANESE: I used one when I designed Mill Creek [Golf Club in Churchville, N.Y.]. It opened about 10 years ago. Drumlins aren’t everywhere, though. There’s not a lot in the south. There are some in Michigan and some, like the one at Mill Creek, in Upstate New York.
Q.: Are drumlins a good thing?
ALBANESE: They create a great land form for golf. A drumlin gives you elevation change and it adds a lot of character. It looks like an upside down spoon, and they’re usually above flatter land.
Q.: How did you find this one for Sage Run?
ALBANESE: The (Potawatomi) tribe handed me a typographical map, and then we decided on where to build this golf course. The acreage covered was in the thousands, and we wound up building Sage Run on about 300 acres.
Q.: Your very well received Tatanka course didn’t have a drumlin. Is it in any way similar to Sage Run?
ALBANESE: Both have a more rough and ragged flavor. That comes through on both courses. Conceptually we used the natural ruggedness of the terrain. And, we created teeing areas — not tee boxes — on both courses.
Paul Albanese has designed both the courses at Island Resort and Casino in Harris, Mich. [Photo: Joy Sarver]
Q.: What’s the difference between a teeing area and a tee box?
ALBANESE: Tees are usually shaped to be flat. We wanted to shape our teeing areas like we shape greens. We wanted to give the teeing areas the same flavor of a green complex.
Q.: In the case of Sage Run, it’s the second course at Island Resort Casino. You also designed the first course, Sweetgrass, and it was well received — especially within Michigan. Any similarities?
ALBANESE: We didn’t want to force that. They’re built on completely different properties. They’re like red wine and white wine. They’re two different styles.
Q.: You have worked with American Indian tribes before, and not just in Nebraska and Michigan. What’s that like?
ALBANESE: The tribal leadership wants us to utilize their people to build both courses. We wanted them to have a stake in building the golf course and to take pride in it. That’s been amazingly successful.